February 2011 Archives

Trying a bow the Zen way


I am trying a new baroque bow by Craig Ryder the Zen way. As I draw this lovely snakewood instrument across the gut of the string like a limb, I find I am also following it's trajectory, observing it, responding. Every cell of my body is alive to its life, its needs. The nerve endings in my fingers are receptors for its information. Can I coast now? Do I need to change the contact point, angle, adjust the weight? Is it time for a new impulse? I am trying to listen in a way that is not attached. This is not MY sound. MY interpretation. MY instrument (well it certainly isn't my instrument till I fork out the 1400 euros I need to buy it!). This is what is, now, in this moment.

It's strange what a different intensity this kind of listening brings. As in meditation, of course, the ability to be in a state of micro-awareness comes and goes. Thoughts come and go. Physical sensations and a desire to react to them come and go. When I am in it, however, I notice that I have an overview - a sense of where I am coming from both melodically and harmonically, and where I am going - that I lose when I get involved. Nuances come as a spontaneous response to what I hear and are not Blue - Peter- style 'Here's one I made earlier', or like too much extra whipped cream. And of course they slip into the past before I can label or fix them. I am the pure slow descant line above all the business in a Bach cantata. I am the silent observer, the one bearing witness….

I am, that is, until a note is out of tune or doesn't speak and I fall into self judgement. Or I think 'Oh, that was nice! I must remember to give that phrase the same stress next time.'

A beautiful instrument is so alive, such a presence in itself, that playing with it reminds us to take these steps back, to give up control and observe in wonder what happens when bow hair meets string and flesh and blood over a good bit of Bach!

A Yogic Approach to Performance?

There are six of us in the Ubud yoga studio and we have arrived roughly fifteen minutes early in order to soften and quieten. On the teak floor are laid mauve and turquoise yoga mats, one of which we each claim. Some of us gather props around us: lilac blocks for stiff knees, blue bolsters for hovering sitting bones, sea-green straps for tight ham strings. We pass around a bottle of natural mosquito repellent. All this is done in silence.

We sit.

The studio seems to float in the palm trees. Through the sliding window-walls my gaze flows, out over a lake of rice paddy green and towards the sacred blue volcano, Gunung Agung, where I find my focus. The breeze whips up an olefactory cocktail from the scent of frangipani, incense and citronella. I close my eyes.

I listen.

A bird sounds like a firework. A baby cries. Water trickles from one rice terrace down to the next. Someone says ‘dude’ in the café below. A wood planer screams.
Eka’s voice pours in to the atmosphere like the cane syrup I just had in my latte.

‘Listen to the furthest sound you can hear. …Listen without labeling or judging: Bad sound. Good sound….. Take two step back and just be silent observer.’

Ducks quack and there, all the way out there in the distance, I hear a bee buzzing in an orchid. I listen deeper.

‘Now bring your attention in to the room and to your breath…. Just observe…. With kindness…Let go control…Surrender…. Let your breath breathe you.’

It is at this point that I bring in my spirit guide, the one who cracks open and brings compassion flooding in to my heart like no other …(Is it me? asks Julian later) It is at this point that I summon our cat, Oscar. I see him sleeping on the sofa at home (which he is probably doing), his grey coat rising and falling. I see his simple aliveness through his breathing. I see his fur stretch over his expanding body and release back to density as his body contracts. Then, very gently so as not to trip and break it, so as not to spill the compassion along the way, I transfer the image like a tray of drinks over to myself. I take two steps back and observe my breath causing my chest to rise and fall, my belly to expand and contract. I see my breath breathing my body into another moment of existence, and another, and I am overcome with gratitude.

We bring our hands together, thumbs touching the planes of our chest and chant ‘om’ three times. Our voices mingle, touch, brush against one another, vibrate together. My throat is open, connected to my heart, allowing sound to flow from it into the space with no blockages.

‘Now’ says Eka ‘bring your hands up to your forehead and say to yourself’ you are ready to continue this practice of moving meditation, synchronizing your body, your breath and your mind, and above all sending nothing but love and kindness to your body and to your brothers and sisters in this room’

Later, having examined the state of my cellulite whilst finding my drishte in downward dog, having sweated through what Eka calls the Viagra pose, having twisted and balanced, fallen once and recovered myself in mountain pose, having come to a point of energized stillness and inner calm, and sipping a ‘tangy tamarind cooler’ in the café that drips with bee-filled orchids, I think about performance preparation. I think about us musicians back stage running up and down our instruments in panic, competing with the person to our left who is playing the Tchaikowsky concerto at double speed, or to our right who is doing the Guinness book of Records amount of staccatos in one up-bow staccato. Of the energy coursing through the hands of the girl opposite in anticipation of giving, and the gleeful mockery we make of her in our minds for having stage fright. Of the fact that our mind is already on stage, or, even better, in the bar afterwards. Of the pride or the shame or the fear we have in anticipation of OUR performance (the one we made ourselves with our talent and fingers and brains.). And I think that we musicians have a great deal yet to learn.